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Football Opponent Previews; Miami (OH) RedHawks

From 1888 to 2005 the universities of Cincinnati and Miami played 110 times without having either side win more than 5 games in a row. It was in many respects a perfect distillation of a regional rivalry with close schools (geographically, not so much culturally), a traveling trophy and boatloads of contempt floating both directions. But since 2005 nothing has been the same.

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The Bearcats have won eight straight in the series, and by an average margin of  36 to 8. In every respect the Bearcats have separated themselves from the Redhawks. While the Bearcats program has entered something of a golden age the Miami program is at an all time low. If you count the interim's Miami is now on their 6th coach since the start of the 2008 season. Other than a now inexplicable run to 10 wins and a MAC championship in 2010 the Redhawks are now in the Mordor phase of their program, where everything is black and charred and blurred beyond all recognition.

Now, for the third time in four seasons the Redhawks are starting over again. Last year's coach Don Treadwell was relieved of his duties mid season, and his entire staff followed him out the door in December. In comes Chuck Martin who made his bones as Brian Kelly's defensive coordinator/successor at Grand Valley State. More recently he completed a rare late career position change to the offensive side of the ball serving as the OC each of the last two years.

Martin brought a whole batch of Notre Dame staffer's and a handful of immediately eligible Notre Dame transfers to Oxford. Quarterback Andrew Hendrix and Tight End Alex Welch are a pair of former highly regarded recruits who never panned out, and return closer to home with the RedHawks. Also joining in the fun is Lo Wood, a guy who played in 32 games for the Irish 19 tackles and a pick six in that time.

The Notre Dame transfers certainly give Miami an injection of talent at some crucial spots, particularly on offense. It is hard to overstate how bad the RedHawks were on offense last year. They couldn't really run or throw the ball, the scheme was wrong for the players on hand. The truth is that even if Miami got the tactics right last season, there was no success to be had behind arguably the worst offensive line in the country.

The RedHawks do bring back their top guys at all the skill positions, Spencer Treadwell at running back, Dawan Scott back at receiver as well as David Frazier and Alvonta Johnson. That should help Hendrix find guys that he can trust in the offense. But there is no getting around the work that has to be done with the RedHawks front line. They bring back four starters, and 9 of the top 10 from the end of the year. They should be better, if only because they can't possibly be worse. For the offense that is what it is going to come down to. If the line can keep Hendrix upright there are enough playmakers to craft a middle of the road MAC offense, and that would be enormous progress.

For the defense the problem is the same, they don't have enough guys up front who are difference makers. They had a pair last year in Austin Brown and Wes Williams, but they are gone this year. Brown in particular was a major headache for the Bearcats last year. Its an open question if there is anyone on the team who can provide a rough facsimile of what Brown and Williams did a year ago, be that as a group or individually. It might have to be J'terius Brown, a sophomore with a bright future that wouldn't have this kind of pressure this early.

Lo Wood is a huge boost to the backend of the defense. In theory he should be able to step into the role vacated by Dayonne Nunley who was the only bright spot in the backend. Last year Heath Harding and Brison Burris made a ton of plays as young(ish) guys thrust into newly prominent spots, but was that because they were good, or just because they had a ton of opportunities, the jury is still out.

For the record I really like the linebackers. Kent Kern and Josh Dooley are one of the better one two punches in the MAC, Tyler Tucker is a new(ish) starter, albeit one who played a ton of good football down the stretch. But how this group fits in with the rest of the defense is an open debate. Likewise its hard to guess how much cover they will get from the front end, or how much run support they will get from the secondary.

Miami will probably get back to the top end of the MAC at some point. They are a part of the furniture up there, and thus they will return there at some point. But there is unquestionably work to do in Oxford. The simplest statement of the problem is that they just aren't getting enough difference makers along the lines, on either side of the ball. Martin and Co. are recruiting well, but the fruits of those efforts are generally slow to ripen in the MAC.